The history of art is a history of artistic breakthroughs. Consider these significant achievements:
- Scientific perspective
- Oil painting, and then acrylics
- Abstraction (Gasp! Art doesn’t have to be a window on the world?)
- Collage (Huh? Glue paper on top of paper??)
- Constructed sculpture (rather than carved or modeled)
I don't have to convince you of how good it feels to have those artistic breakthroughs.
But there are breakthroughs in other areas of your life that will also contribute to your success. Breakthroughs in mindset, technology adaptation, systems, and a host of business challenges.
What Needs to Break?
The word breakthrough implies that something has to be destroyed so that something new can be created.
The dictionary defines a breakthrough as …
… any significant or sudden advance, development, achievement, or increase, as in scientific knowledge or diplomacy, that removes a barrier to progress.
I might emphasize these words.
removes a barrier
If you are looking for a breakthrough in your art-making, your art career, or in your life, consider these possibilities:
- Do you need to break any bad habits that prevent progress?
- Do you need to break patterns of action (or inaction) that aren’t serving you?
- Do you need to break clean from any negativity you’re feeling about yourself, resentment toward others, or pessimism about your future so that you wake up each day happy to be an artist and to be alive?
Be Open to Change
Breakthroughs are earned, but they rarely happen when you’re looking for them.
It's impossible to time your breakthrough: I think I'll have a breakthrough tomorrow. If only it were that easy.
Though it might be possible to sense one ahead: I feel like I'm working on something big. I'm not sure what it is yet, but I'm excited about the prospects.
Here are a number of ways to adjust your approach to work in order to facilitate a breakthrough.
6 Ways to Expedite Your Breakthrough
1. Create a problem to solve. Any problem.
Art is advanced when problems are solved, like how to depict three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface.
Set up a problem for your art or business.
How can I balance the composition?
How can I make this with less expensive materials? How can I sell more with less ad spend?
How can I convey this or that emotion?
How can I enjoy interacting on social media more?
Faith Ringgold was researching shipping options for her paintings when she realized that if she just painted on fabric, without the support, she could roll it up and easily ship it in a tube.
2. Challenge yourself.
There’s very little motivation in the daily grind: post to instagram, update your inventory, send a newsletter, write a blog post, or work in the studio.
If you’re not careful, you can get stuck checking off menial tasks without doing something extraordinary for your art and for yourself.
Pick a color or a new material that you’ve been avoiding and figure out how to use it in a way that is pleasing.
This is why the Painting a Day phenomenon or 100-day challenges have caught on.
Contrary to the notion that you need absolute freedom to make art, there is ample evidence that creativity thrives within defined parameters.
3. Talk to people about your ideas.
If you are, as I am, a verbal processor, you will find it useful to discuss ideas with others.
Maybe you set up conversations with other artists, as we facilitate in the Art Biz Connection community.
Or perhaps you find inspiration from someone outside of your field but whose intellect challenges you: a scientist, musician, poet, or other business owner.
The only caveat is that you must talk about your ideas with people whose opinions you respect. Discussing ideas with anyone and everyone isn’t helpful to your goals.
4. Change your routine.
If you’re getting the same results while going through the motions day after day, it’s time to shake things up.
- Start your day at a different time or go to bed earlier.
- Switch your business schedule with your studio schedule.
- Vow not to engage with social media until the end of the day.
- Take your walk in the evening instead of the morning.
Helen Frankenthaler’s breakthrough came after a trip to Nova Scotia, where she had painted numerous watercolors of the rocky seascape. Upon returning to New York, she spread her canvas on the floor and applied paint diluted with turpentine.
Mountains and Sea (1952) was the result and the rest is part of our art history.
5. Pay attention.
Wherever you are, be present to all that is around you and the people who are near. Absorb your surroundings with all of your senses.
It might be during a walk, listening to an art talk or video, or viewing a first-class art exhibition.
What do I see? What do I feel? What do I hear? What do I smell?
What is the speaker say that inspires me?
What do the artworks say?
Picasso’s major breakthrough occurred when he encountered African art in the Palais du Trocadéro.
6. Change your environment.
In your immediate vicinity, you can declutter. Or reorganize the furniture or your materials.
Move your desk or workstation so that you have a different view.
Or just get out! Get out of the studio. Get out of your office. Get out of your house.
Go to a coffee shop, a coworking space, or a body of water.
When furniture craftsman Evan Sturm came to one of my live events in Golden, Colorado from his home in Montana, he was stuck in part of his business. Like Faith Ringgold, the problem was shipping.
During his stay in Golden, Evan discovered that his hotel was less than one mile from the very shipping company he wanted to utilize to move his handcrafted furniture across the country. He set up an early morning meeting before our sessions and … Boom! Breakthrough!
To emphasize, you can't will a breakthrough to happen, but you can make adjustments that make it easier to spot or expedite a breakthrough.
Breakthroughs happen as a result of doing the work and being present during the process. And you must be open to change. You must be willing to say Yes to something new and different.
Keep working and stay open so that you can make necessary adjustments when your breakthrough strikes.
This article was first published on September 1, 2016 and had been expanded and updated with original comments intact.